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About gynocentrism

Gynocentrism n. (Greek, γυνή, “female” – Latin centrum, “centred” ) refers to a dominant or exclusive focus on women in theory or practice; or to the advocacy of this.1 Anything can be considered gynocentric (Adj.) when it is concerned exclusively with a female (or specifically a feminist) point of view.2

[see here for more dictionary definitions of gynocentrism]

Introduction

Modern gynocentrism is facilitated by three interrelated pressures, the first biological and the subsequent two being cultural developments:

Gynocentrism 1:0 refers to basic instinctual behavior inherited from our hominid ancestors for prioritizing female reproductive capacity; that is, we tend to protect and provide for women and children as a way to encourage survival of our species, a tendency reinforced by varying local customs throughout history until the Middle Ages, when a confluence of cultural factors came together to create gynocentrism 2:0 →

Gynocentrism 2:0 – refers to a cultural intensification of the gynocentric tendency, arising in Medieval Europe during a period cross-cultural influences and momentous changes in gendered customs. Beginning in around the 12th century European society birthed an intersection of Arabic practices of female worship, aristocratic courting trends, the Marian cult, along with the imperial patronage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter Marie De Champagne who together elaborated the military notion of chivalry into a notion of servicing ladies, a practice otherwise known as ‘courtly love.’

Courtly love was enacted by minstrels, playrights and troubadours, and especially via hired romance-writers like Chrétien de Troyes and Andreas Capellanus who laid down a model of romantic fiction that is still the biggest grossing genre of literature today. That confluence of factors generated the cultural conventions that continue to drive gynocentrism today, which was consolidated by one significant further development →

Gynocentrism 3:0, which refers to the developed economy with service industry where women can enter labour force and gain financial independence from men, which (1) creates demand for more rights vis-a-vis men because there is no longer a trade-off as in traditional relationships, and (2) renders women free to pursue increasing degrees of relational status as desired. These factors, in combination with the contraceptive pill, have given gynocentrism increased motility.3

Gynocentrism as a cultural phenomenon

The primary elements of gynocentric culture, as we experience it today, are derived from practices originating in medieval society such as feudalism, chivalry and courtly love that continue to inform contemporary society in subtle ways. Such gynocentric patters constitute a “sexual feudalism,” as attested by female writers like Lucrezia Marinella who in 1600 AD recounted that women of lower socioeconomic classes were treated as superiors by men who acted as servants or beasts born to serve them, or by Modesta Pozzo who in 1590 wrote;

“don’t we see that men’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the lady of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why men are naturally stronger and more robust than us — they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service.”4

The golden casket above depicting scenes of servile behaviour toward women were typical of courtly love culture of the Middle Ages. Such objects were given to women as gifts by men seeking to impress. Note the woman standing with hands on hips in a position of authority, and the man being led around by a neck halter, his hands clasped in a position of subservience.

It’s clear that much of what we today call gynocentrism was invented in the Middle Ages with the cultural practices of romantic chivalry and courtly love. In 12th century Europe, feudalism served as the basis for a new model for love in which men were to play the role of vassal to women who played the role of an idealized Lord.

C.S. Lewis, back in the middle of the 20th Century, referred to this historical revolution as “the feudalisation of love,” and stated that it has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched. “Compared with this revolution,” states Lewis, “the Renaissance is a mere ripple on the surface of literature.”5 Lewis further states;

“Everyone has heard of courtly love, and everyone knows it appeared quite suddenly at the end of the eleventh century at Languedoc. The sentiment, of course, is love, but love of a highly specialized sort, whose characteristics may be enumerated as Humility, Courtesy, and the Religion of Love. The lover is always abject. Obedience to his lady’s lightest wish, however whimsical, and silent acquiescence in her rebukes, however unjust, are the only virtues he dares to claim. Here is a service of love closely modelled on the service which a feudal vassal owes to his lord. The lover is the lady’s ‘man’. He addresses her as midons, which etymologically represents not ‘my lady’ but ‘my lord’. The whole attitude has been rightly described as ‘a feudalisation of love’. This solemn amatory ritual is felt to be part and parcel of the courtly life.” 6

With the advent of (initially courtly) women being elevated to the position of ‘Lord’ in intimate relationships, and with this general sentiment diffusing to the masses and across much of the world today, we are justified in talking of a gynocentric cultural complex that affects, among other things, relationships between men and women. Further, unless evidence of widespread gynocentric culture can be found prior to the Middle Ages, then  gynocentrism is precisely 800 years old. In order to determine if this thesis is valid we need to look further at what we mean by “gynocentrism”.

The term gynocentrism has been in circulation since the 1800’s, with the general definition being “focused on women; concerned with only women.” 7 From this definition we see that gynocentrism could refer to any female-centered practice, or to a single gynocentric act carried out by one individual. There is nothing inherently wrong with a gynocentric act (eg. celebrating Mother’s Day) , or for that matter an androcentric act (celebrating Father’s Day). However when a given act becomes instituted in the culture to the exclusion of other acts we are then dealing with a hegemonic custom — i.e. such is the relationship custom of elevating women to the position of men’s social, moral or spiritual superiors.

Author of Gynocentrism Theory Adam Kostakis has attempted to expand the definition of gynocentrism to refer to “male sacrifice for the benefit of women” and “the deference of men to women,” and he concludes; “Gynocentrism, whether it went by the name honor, nobility, chivalry, or feminism, its essence has gone unchanged. It remains a peculiarly male duty to help the women onto the lifeboats, while the men themselves face a certain and icy death.” 8

While we can agree with Kostakis’ descriptions of assumed male duty, the phrase gynocentric culture more accurately carries his intention than gynocentrism alone. Thus when used alone in the context of this website gynocentrism refers to part or all of gynocentric culture, which is defined here as any culture instituting rules for gender relationships that benefit females at the expense of males across a broad range of measures.

At the base of gynocentric culture lies the practice of enforced male sacrifice for the benefit of women. If we accept this definition we must look back and ask whether male sacrifices throughout history were always made for the sake women, or alternatively for the sake of some other primary goal? For instance, when men went to die in vast numbers in wars, was it for women, or was it rather for Man, King, God and Country? If the latter we cannot then claim that this was a result of some intentional gynocentric culture, at least not in the way I have defined it here. If the sacrifice isn’t intended directly for the benefit women, even if women were occasional beneficiaries of male sacrifice, then we are not dealing with gynocentric culture.

Male utility and disposability strictly “for the benefit of women” comes in strongly only after the advent of the 12th century gender revolution in Europe – a revolution that delivered us terms like gallantry, chivalry, chivalric love, courtesy, damsels, romance and so on. From that period onward gynocentric practices grew exponentially, culminating in the demands of today’s feminist movement. In sum, gynocentrism (ie. gynocentric culture) was a patchy phenomenon at best before the middle ages, after which it became ubiquitous.

With this in mind it makes little sense to talk of gynocentric culture starting with the industrial revolution a mere 200 years ago (or 100 or even 30 yrs ago), or of it being two million years old as some would argue. We are not only fighting two million years of genetic programming; our culturally constructed problem of gender inequity is much simpler to pinpoint and to potentially reverse. All we need do is look at the circumstances under which gynocentric culture first began to flourish and attempt to reverse those circumstances. Specifically, that means rejecting the illusions of romantic love (feudalised love), along with the practices of misandry, male shaming and servitude that ultimately support it.

La Querelle des Femmes, and advocacy for women

The Querelle des Femmes translates as the “quarrel about women” and amounts to what we might today call a gender-war. The querelle had its beginning in twelfth century Europe and finds its culmination in the feminist-driven ideology of today (though some authors claim, unconvincingly, that the querelle came to an end in the 1700s). The basic theme of the centuries-long quarrel revolved, and continues to revolve, around advocacy for the rights, power and status of women, and thus Querelle des Femmes serves as the originating title for gynocentric discourse.

If we consider the longevity of this revolution we might be inclined to agree with Barbarossaaa’s claim “that feminism is a perpetual advocacy machine for women”.

To place the above events into a coherent timeline, chivalric servitude toward women was elaborated and given patronage first under the reign of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1137-1152) and instituted culturally throughout Europe over the subsequent 200 year period. After becoming thus entrenched on European soil there arose the Querelle des Femmes which refers to the advocacy culture that arose for protecting, perpetuating and increasing female power in relation to men that continues, in an unbroken tradition, in the efforts of contemporary feminism.9

Writings from the Middle Ages forward are full of testaments about men attempting to adapt to the feudalisation of love and the serving of women, along with the emotional agony, shame and sometimes physical violence they suffered in the process. Gynocentric chivalry and the associated querelle have not received much elaboration in men’s studies courses to-date, but with the emergence of new manuscripts and quality English translations it may be profitable to begin blazing this trail.10

References

1. Oxford English Dictionary – Vers.4.0 (2009), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199563838
2. Oxford English Dictionary 2010
3. Three points elaborated during online conversation with Snir, October 2016
4. Modesta Pozzo, The Worth of Women: their Nobility and Superiority to Men
5. C.S. Lewis, Friendship, chapter in The Four Loves, HarperCollins, 1960
6. C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love, Oxford University Press, 1936
7. Dictionary.com – Gynocentric
8. Adam Kostakis, Gynocentrism Theory – (Published online, 2011). Although Kostakis assumes gynocentrism has been around throughout recorded history, he singles out the Middle Ages for comment: “There is an enormous amount of continuity between the chivalric class code which arose in the Middle Ages and modern feminism… One could say that they are the same entity, which now exists in a more mature form – certainly, we are not dealing with two separate creatures.”
9. Joan Kelly, Early Feminist Theory and the Querelle des Femmes (1982), reprinted in Women, History and Theory, UCP (1984)
10. The New Male Studies Journal has published thoughtful articles touching on the history and influence of chivalry in the lives of males.

Early mentions of “Romantic love” in English literature

The following are some early mentions (and descriptions) of ‘romantic love’ in English literature. Note the continuity of courtly love themes from the Middle Ages such as belief in the purity of women and their elevation above men, along with male supplication, chivalry and long-suffering, and of the ultimate extravagance of love – PW

1737:
“Farewell, farewell forever. She left me, with how much concern upon my heart, as it was beyond what I ever felt, it is beyond what I can ever express. Tho’ I was assur’d her reproach was unjust, yet from the principles of affection that gave occasion to it, it affected me. I struggled long between romantic love and prudent conduct: one day I resolv’d to fling myself at her feet the next, and give a proof of my love by ruining myself in marriage ; but the next I thought it better to see her Father again, and strive if…” [The London Magazine; Or, Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, 1737]

1741:
“But I think the tragedy may receive a wonderful force, should its authors, without minding that giddy Romantic Love which makes such havoc in their plays, follow only the true philosophic Ideas of antiquity.” [An historical and critical account of the theatres in Europe, Luigi Riccoboni – Printed for T. Waller, 1741]

1749:
“This novel is altered from one published in the year 1762 The Author, perceiving many material defects in the original work, particularly that the story was too simple to be very interesting, too concise to admit of much exemplification of character, and too much in the usual strain of romantic love.” [The Monthly Review, Volume 53, Ralph Griffiths, George Edward Griffiths, 1749]

1761:
“There is no resisting the impetuosity of romantic love. Like enthusiasm it breaks through all the restraints of nature and custom and enables, as well as animates its votaries, to execute all its extravagant suggestions ” [The World – by Adam Fitz-Adam, by Edward Moore, publishe by R. and J Dodsley 1761]

1773:
“The adventures of the Spanish knight [Don Quixote] were written to expose the absurdities of romantic chivalry, so those of the English heroine were designed to ridicule romantic love, and to show the tendency that books of knight-errantry have to turn the heads of their female readers.” [The Critical Review, Or, Annals of Literature, Volume 35, W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, 1773]

1776:
Reading books of extravagant poetry raises corresponding doubt’s in the mind as they paint all the passions immoderate. Tragedies, such as they frequently are; books of romantic love, and which is fifty times worse, books of romantic intrigues, all tend to disturb the breast of the tender fair one.” [The Lady’s Magazine; Or, Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated Solely to Their Use and Amusement, Volume 7, G. Robinson, 1776]

1777:
“In this correspondence the two friends encourage each other in the [……?] notions imaginable. They represent romantic love as the great important business of human life, and describe all the other concerns of it as too low and paltry to merit the attention of such elevated beings, and fit only to employ the daughter of the plodding vulgar.” [The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure, Pub. for J. Hinton, 1777]

1798:
“I readily grant that in former times this veneration for personal purity was carried to an extravagant height, and that several very ridiculous fancies and customs arose from this. Romantic love and chivalry are strong instances of the strange vagaries of our imagination, when carried along by this enthusiastic admiration for female purity; and so unnatural and forced, that they could only be temporary fashions. But I believe that, for all their ridicule, it would be a happy nation where this was the general creed and practice.” [Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, by John Robison, Philadelphia, 1798]

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The evolution of gynocentrism via romance writings

parts of it. Is thisThe sexual relations contract encoded in courtly love fiction was at first celebrated among the upper classes, but made its way by degrees eventually to the middle classes, and finally to the lower classes – or rather it broke class structure altogether in the sense that all Western peoples became inheritors of the customs of romantic love regardless of their social station.

Today the romantic novel is the biggest grossing genre of literature worldwide, with its themes saturating popular culture and its conventions informing politics and legislation globally.

The growth of this genre beyond the upper classes where it was born to become the lived story of all Western women is represented thematically here:

Evolution of the sexual relations contract

Upper-class beginnings

The three-stage evolution of romantic love saw its first chapter begin in 12th century France. Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter Marie De Champagne together elaborated the military notion of chivalry into a notion of servicing ladies, a practice otherwise known as ‘courtly love.’

Courtly love was enacted by minstrels, playrights and troubadours, and especially via hired romance-writers like Chrétien de Troyes who wrote stories to illustrate its principles. Under the continuing guidance of Marie it was elaborated into a code of conduct by Andreas Capellanus in his famous tract titled ‘About Love’ (in English The Art of Courtly Love).

The aristocratic classes who developed this trope did not exist in a vacuum. The courtly themes they enacted would most certainly have captured the imaginations of the lower classes though public displays of pomp and pageantry, troubadours and tournaments, minstrels and playwrights, the telling of romantic stories, and of course the gossip flowing everywhere which would have exerted a powerful effect on the peasant imagination.

We cannot know for certain but it is likely that those of even lower classes adopted some assumptions portrayed in the public displays of courtly love, such as the importance of chivalrous behavior toward women and perhaps a belief in the Lady-like purity and moral superiority of women.

Middle class adaptation

The Victorian era saw the birth of mass novel writing, with much of it written by female authors. Whatever aspirations women had to romantic love in previous centuries, it was now actualized in writings by and about middle-class women, and the themes penned would become ritually enacted, ie. lived, by millions. This development is viewed by some researchers as marking a liberating revolution for middle class women.

Victorian peoples loved the traditional medieval romances of knights and ladies and they hoped to regain some of that noble, courtly behaviour and impress it upon the people both at home and in the wider empire. A new approach however saw it pitched beyond the upper classes to a larger group of people.

In her book Male Masochism, Carol Siegal1 gives an overview of Victorian women’s novels by focusing on the continuation and evolution of the romantic love themes found in medieval romances:

7351474_f260“A great deal of what [Victorian] women’s literary works had to say about gender relations may have been as disquieting as feminist political manifestos, and ironically so, in that the novels seem most anti-male in the very places where they most affirm a traditionally male vision of love. While women’s lyric poetry tended to reverse the conventional gender roles in love by representing the female speaker as the lover instead of the object of love, women’s fiction most frequently reproduced the images, so common in prior texts by men, of the self-abasing male lover and his exacting mistress. For example, in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff declares himself Cathy’s slave; in Jane Eyre, Rochester’s desire for Jane is first inspired and then intensified by his physically dependent position; in Middlemarch, Will Ladislaw silently vows that Dorothea will always have him as her slave, his only claim to her love lies in how much he has suffered for her. In several Victorian novels by women, men must undego quasi-ritualized humiliation or punishment before being judged deserving of their lady’s attention. For instance, in Olive Schreiner’s Story of an African Farm, the fair Lyndall condescends to treat her admirers tenderly after one has been horsewhipped and the other has dressed himself in women’s clothes to wait on her. Although Victorian women’s novels do explore the emotional insecurities of the heroines, their apparent self-possession is also stressed, in marked contrast to their lovers’ displays of agony, desperation, and wounds.”

Siegal suggests that male masochism and the dominatrix-like behavior of women in these writings is continuous with courtly love literature from the Middle Ages. And whilst some libertines self-consciously chose their lowly position in relation to women, the men described in Victorian women’s novels lacked such volition:

7351466_f260“These texts also insist that the true measure of male love is lack of volition. While the heroines make choices that define them morally, the heroes are helplessly compelled by love, and not judged to love unless they are helpless. In this respect Victorian women’s fiction recovers the ethos so often expressed in medieval courtly romance that love must be “suffered as a destiny to be submitted to and not denied.” It also departs from the conventions of medieval romance in describing the helpless submission to love as an attribute of true manliness, and thus Victorian women’s fiction directly attacks the degeneration of chivalry into the self-conscious and controlled “gallantry” of eighteenth century libertines.”

Those who have read medieval romance literature will agree with Siegal that the sexual relations contract embedded in Victorian Romance novels provides the continuation of a medieval trope, and not a fresh vision generally speaking. It is an example of pastiche.

To be sure there are new elements in the Victorian novel, such as the stronger emphasis on emotion and the relaxing of class distinctions, but we are not dealing with a new animal in terms of larger trope structure, i.e. it is more like a new costume for an old play.

Said another way, the essence of the feudal relationship was extracted from the medieval class system in which it was born, and applied by authors of the Victorian era to people of the middle classes. With a passage of time and a further dissolving of class distinctions to which this trope might apply, it would be eventually applied to all people – class codes be damned.

The medieval structure in question is one we might call sexual feudalism. It is symbolized, for example, in the marriage proposal which sees men of any class go down on one knee – a ceremony originally intended for a feudal relationship contract in medieval times.

C.S. Lewis referred to the transfer of the feudal contract into intimate relations as “the feudalisation of love,” making the observation that it has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched. And perhaps more importantly this sexual feudalism – or romantic love as it is popularly called – no longer relies on a feudal society or class structures for its existence.

Taking an earnest look at the power wielded by protagonists in the Victorian woman’s novel, and of the novel’s real-world consequences for women, Nancy Armstrong2 observes that the sexual contract can overrule the social contract, and that love can be the most powerful regulating law between two parties – a possibility that appears little considered by feminist writers.

Adaption by all levels of society

Romantic love today is the great leveler, smashing all class distinctions in its path. Women of low means can marry men of high station (and visa versa) because the love contract is capable of overruling the social contract. While there are literally millions of novels and movies that display feudalistic love overriding the social contract, the movie Pretty Woman, featuring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, will suffice as a modern example:

Edward Lewis, a successful corporate raider in Los Angeles on business, accidentally ends up on Hollywood Boulevard in the city’s red-light district, after breaking up with his girlfriend during an unpleasant phone call. Leaving a party, he takes his lawyer’s Lotus Esprit luxury car, and encounters a prostitute, Vivian Ward. He stops for her, having difficulties driving the car, and asks for directions to Beverly Hills. He asks her to get in and guide him to the Beverly Hills Regent Hotel, where he is staying. It becomes clear that Vivian knows more about the Lotus than he does, and he lets her drive. Vivian charges Lewis $20 for the ride, and they separate. She goes to a bus stop, where he finds her and offers to hire her for the night; later, he asks Vivian to play the role his girlfriend has refused, offering her $3000 to stay with him for the next six days as well as paying for a new, more acceptable wardrobe for her. That evening, visibly moved by her transformation, Edward begins seeing Vivian in a different light. He begins to open up to her, revealing his personal and business lives.
Pretty_woman_movie
Edward takes Vivian to a polo match in hopes of networking for his business deal. His attorney, Phillip, suspects Vivian is a corporate spy, and Edward tells him how they truly met. Phillip later approaches Vivian, suggesting they do business once her work with Edward is finished. Insulted, and furious that Edward has revealed their secret, Vivian wants to end the arrangement. Edward apologizes, and admits to feeling jealous of a business associate to whom Vivian paid attention at the match. Vivian’s straightforward personality is rubbing off on Edward, and he finds himself acting in unaccustomed ways.

Clearly growing involved, Edward takes Vivian in his private jet to see La Traviata in San Francisco. Vivian is moved to tears by the story of the prostitute who falls in love with a rich man; after the opera, they appear to have fallen in love. Vivian breaks her “no kissing on the mouth” rule (which her friend Kit taught her), and he offers to put her up in an apartment so she can be off the streets. Hurt, she refuses, says this is not the “fairy tale” she dreamed of as a child, in which a knight on a white horse rescues her.

Meeting with the tycoon whose shipbuilding company he is in the process of “raiding,” Edward changes his mind. His time with Vivian has shown him a different way of looking at life, and he suggests working together to save the company rather than tearing it apart and selling off the pieces. Phillip, furious at losing so much money, goes to the hotel to confront Edward, but finds only Vivian. Blaming her for the change in Edward, he attempts to rape her. Edward arrives, punches him in the face, and throws him out.

With his business in L.A. complete, Edward asks Vivian to stay one more night with him — because she wants to, not because he’s paying her. She refuses. On his way to the airport, Edward re-thinks his life and has the hotel chauffeur detour to Vivian’s apartment building, where he leaps from out the white limo’s sun roof and “rescues her,” an urban visual metaphor for the knight on a white horse of her dreams.3

The trope of romantic love is ubiquitous and pervasive through all levels of Westernized culture, and is rapidly infusing into remaining pockets of Asia that had been historically secluded from its influence. Romantic love is the number one selling genre in literature, movies and music globally – a testament to its all encompassing power.

The fact that women have been front-and-center in crafting and promoting this medieval “love” contract flies in the face of women’s presumed powerless in the world. The two-spheres approach underlining powers unique to males and females is at play, and while only 1% of males traditionally controlled the political sphere, 100% of women possess the leverage of romantic love in the relational sphere. Further, I would go so far as to claim the political sphere governed by that 1% of men is now so captivated by the dictates of romantic love that its mission has become synonymous with the enactment of chivalry, both in social project spending, and in law.

The old saying is “Love conquers all.” However the author of that phrase had in mind a very different kind of love from the all-conquering power we today refer to as romantic love, and women have played a pivotal role in bringing the later to bear.

Sources:

[1] Carol Siegal, Male Masochism, Indiana University Press, 1995 (pp. 12-13)
[2] Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel, Oxford University Press, 1990
[3] Pretty Woman plot, from Wikipedia

Addendum:

I’m suspicious of scholarly works which “find” romantic love all over the world and in all periods. After reading many such essays I’ve come to the conclusion they confine themselves to biological universals such as the desire for sex, the need for attachment, limerence, social interaction and so on and so forth, all sub-elements of a more complex European-derived phenomenon known as courtly & romantic love.

Such descriptions omit all the idiosyncratic elements that might cast doubt on their universality thesis – details like male masochism, uniquely stylized feudal relationships from France or Germany, the conceptualization of the Virgin Mary and her purity and how that plays into conceptions of gender and love, along with other complex behaviors and influences which make up the courtly love complex arising in medieval Europe.

When Gaston Paris first coined the phrase ‘Courtly Love’ (1883) he was referring precisely to those idiosyncratic elements that render the phenomenon distinct from the universals many scholars reduce it to.

I note how when the above scholars of the reductionist camp cite Paris’ conceptualization they deliberately omit the factors which undermine the universality thesis.

Roger Boas Summarizes Gaston Paris’ description of courtly love as follows:

“His definition of amour courtios may be briefly summarized: it is illicit, furtive and extra-conjugal; the lover continually fears lest he should, by some misfortune, displease his mistress or cease to be worthy of her; the male lover’s position is one of inferiority; even the hardened warrior trembles in his lady’s presence; she, on her part, makes her suitor acutely aware of his insecurity by deliberately acting in a capricious and haughty manner; love is a source of courage and refinement; the lady’s apparent cruelty serves to test her lover’s valor; finally, love, like chivalry and courtoisie, is an art with its own set of rules.” 1

Thus courtly love, as defined by Paris, has four distinctive traits;

1. It is illegitimate and furtive
2. The male lover is inferior and insecure; the beloved is elevated; haughty; even disdainful.
3. The lover must earn the lady’s affection by undergoing many tests of his prowess, valor and devotion.
4. The love is an art and a science, subject to many rules and regulations — like courtesy in general.

It is clear that what we call romantic love today continues many of the themes described by Paris under the heading of courtly love. Thus romantic love can be regarded as synonymous with romantic love in most respects. It is interesting however to compare Paris’ four-part description with modern scholars’ reductive revisions, as for example in this popular essay: [to be continued….]

Are these “scholars” attempting to normalize the European romantic love tradition by supressing the peculiarities inherent to it? Is that reductionism because they cherish romantic love on some level, apriori, and seek its perpetuity? If true it might explain attempts to homogenise romantic love while avoiding all mention of the unsavory sexual feudalism that renders it more problematic and complex through the European lineage.

Note: [1] Roger Boase, The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love: A Critical Study of European Scholarship, p.24, Manchester University Press, 1977

Offering a concise definition of feminism

From every side of the debate people offer differing definitions of what ‘feminism’ is, with feminists themselves pointing to glib dictionary definitions, and antifeminists preferring to define it as a female supremacy movement. A hundred more definitions could likely be offered, but more important is the question of whether these different definitions hold anything in common?

Here Adam Kostakis answers this question in the affirmative with an elegant definition that most would agree with. – PW

_____________________

Even essentially contested concepts, as W. B. Gallie referred to them, must have meanings which are greater than normative, else communication about them would be rendered impossible. That is – there must be some amount of general consensus over what feminism is, between feminists and anti-feminists, or we would not be able to argue about it! Even despite the differences between a feminist’s view of feminism and of our own, some shared content must exist at some level, or we would be talking about entirely different things. They might be talking about the feminist movement, while I am talking about horse-rearing, although we both refer to our respective subjects as ‘feminism’ – but we wouldn’t have much to say to each other, would we, if this were the case?

So, I shall posit the following as a universally applicable definition of feminism; that is to say, it must fit everyone’s criteria for what feminism is, in spite of the different perspectives that different people hold on its nature. It is a suitably limited definition, since it can encompass only those parts of feminism which all definitions hold in common. So, here it is: feminism is the project for increasing the power of women.

That, then, is what everybody who discusses feminism holds in common regarding the concept, whether they are supportive, skeptical, or nihilistically indifferent. No feminist, I think, would deny that this is, at the very least, the ‘bare bones’ of feminism, even if she would prefer to flesh it out in a lot more detail. But that will not do, for beyond this narrow inference, we disagree with each other. To be as objective as possible, then, we must take only that which everybody agrees upon, and that is our universally applicable definition.

Note that there is no mention of equality. This is because there are a number of feminists who explicitly did not pursue equality, but supremacy. So, equality cannot fit into the universal definition of feminism, since certain feminists themselves – who were very famously, unequivocally feminist – disavowed it. To say that feminism is ‘about equality’, then, would be to place oneself in diametrical opposition to several extremely influential feminists! And why, that would be … misogynistic!

Nor can feminism be said to be the project for increasing the power of women relative to men, since, in this counter-feminist’s view, feminists are often quite content to increase the power of women in an absolute sense. That is, they endeavor to grab all they can for women, without reference to the status of men. The phrase ‘relative to men,’ then, only serves to imply that women are power-less relative to men at present, thus casting feminism in an unfairly favorable light. In reality, once women do achieve power which is at an equal or equivalent level to that of men, the demands of feminists do not stop. What we find is that female power becomes entrenched, and extended, and when it surpasses male power, this is simply referred to as ‘parity’ and ignored by feminists – at least, when they are not gloating over men’s newfound powerlessness.

Nor are we able to list, in our universal definition, the specific areas of life, or spheres, in which the feminist project applies. This is because feminism is inherently universalizing; it seeks to colonize and dominate every single facet of life where men and women meet. It aims for domination in every sphere of life, actual and potential.

You may disagree with some of the points above, particularly if you are supportive of feminism. But this does nothing to change our universal definition, because all we can say about those points is that they are contentious. That is, feminists and non-feminists, who are educated about feminism, disagree about these aspects of feminism, and it would simply be biased to take one or the other view for granted. That would be like consulting only Jacobins on the historical accomplishments of the Jacobin Club, or like canvassing only conservatives to explain modern liberalism. It would be a good example of poor methodology, and would help us very little in our search for truth. Right? So then, our universally applicable definition cannot be expanded beyond that which we stated before: feminism is the project for increasing the power of women.

Source: The above excerpt is from Adam Kostakis’ essay Pig Latin.

Peter Lombard: conjugal partnership, not courtly love

By Douglas Galbi

Unlike a more humane, more passionate understanding of chivalry, the long-reigning ideology of courtly love deepens men’s subordination to women. Courtly love ideology proclaims that women are morally superior to men. It urges men to labor for women’s “enobling  love.” Peter Lombard, medieval Europe’s most influential systematic theologian, rejected that ideology.[1] Drawing upon the most highly regarded Jewish and Christian authorities, Lombard established in his monumental Sentences that men and women in love are intended to have an equal conjugal partnership.

Peter Lombard understood the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib to indicate that women and men belong together in an equal partnership. In his Sentences, he explained:

she {Eve} was formed not from just any part of his body {Adam’s body}, but from his side, so that it should be shown that she was created for the partnership of love, lest, if perhaps she had been made from his head, she should be perceived as set over man in domination; or if from his feet, as if subject to him in servitude. Therefore, since she was made neither to dominate, nor to serve the man, but as his partner, she had to be produced neither from his head, nor from his feet, but from his side, so that he would know that she was to be placed beside himself

{non de qualibet parte corporis viri, sed de latere eius formata est, ut ostenderetur quia in consortium creabatur dilectionis: ne forte si fuisset de capite facta, viro ad dominationem videretur praeferenda; aut si de pedibus, ad servitutem subicienda. Quia igitur viro nec domina nec ancilla parabatur, sed socia, nec de capite nec de pedibus, sed de latere fuerat producenda, ut iuxta se ponendam cognosceret} [2]

Lombard emphasized that marriage is a conjugal partnership of equals:

consent to carnal joining or to cohabitation does not make a marriage, but consent to conjugal partnership, expressed by words of present tense, as when a man says: I take you as my wife, and neither as one to lord it over me, nor as a slave-girl. … she is not given as slave-girl or as one to lord it over him; in the beginning she was not formed either from the highest part, nor from the lowest, but from the side of man, for the sake of conjugal partnership.

{consensus cohabitationis vel carnalis copulae non facit coniugium, sed consensus. coniugalis societatis, verbis secundum praesens tempus expressus, ut cum vir dicit: Ego accipio te in meam, non dominam, non ancillam, sed coniugem. … Quia enim non ancilla vel domina datur, ideo nec de summo nec de imo a principio formata est, sed de latere viri, ob coniugalem societatem.} [3]

Courtly lovers abase themselves and pedestalize women. Yet woman are flesh-and-blood humans just like men are. Those who believe otherwise deny human nature and deny revelation that ancient Jewish and Christian authorities understood.

Many Christians have believed in the sinfulness of man in the sense of those decrying “toxic masculinity.” Medieval theologian Peter Lombard, in contrast, provided sympathetic understanding of Adam’s sin.[4] According to Lombard, Adam knew that eating fruit from the tree of knowledge was a sin, but, out of concern for Eve, Adam didn’t go his own way:

Adam … reflected on penance and God’s mercy, even as he humoured the woman and consented to her persuasion, not wishing to sadden her and leave her alienated from herself, lest she should perish. He judged that it {eating the fruit} was a venial, not a mortal, sin.

Adam … de poenitentia et Dei misericordia cogitavit, dum uxori morem gerens, eius persuasioni consensit, nolens eam contristare et a se alienatam relinquere, ne periret, arbitratus illud esse veniale, non mortale delictum. [5]

Adam’s fundamental sin was being too meek and submissive toward a woman. Courtly love encourages and celebrates exactly that horrendous sin.[6]

In our age of ignorance, superstition, and bigotry, many believe that men are privileged relative to women. These believers believe that violence against women is the most pressing human rights problem in the world today. The fact that violence is much more frequently directed against men doesn’t matter to the believers’ beliefs about gender equality. The believers shudder at perceived threats to women’s constitutionally established reproductive rights, but they show no concern about forced financial fatherhood currently imposed on men and men having no reproductive rights whatsoever. The believers look upwards and gaze upon the genitals of mega-corporation CEOs and national political leaders. They don’t see the gender of the many more numerous persons authoritatively deprived of custody of their children or locked up in prison and jails, even when those persons are their relatives and neighbors. We are living in a Dark Age.

We have never been medieval like the medieval theologian Peter Lombard. His systematic, enlightened thinking about women and men in love rejected the oppressive, gynocentric ideology of courtly love. Although highly influential, Lombard’s reason wasn’t enough to overcome the darkness in which men disbelieve what they see with their own eyes.[7] Better education in medieval literature offers men and women the best hope for enlightenment.

Notes:

[1] Born about 1100, Peter Lombard became a professor at the cathedral school of Notre Dame in Paris about 1145 and Bishop of Paris in 1159. He was a renowned master-teacher who engaged with other leading theologians such as Hugh of St. Victor and Peter Abelard. Lombard finished his second and final draft of the Sentences in 1158.

Lombard’s Sentences became the most commented upon Christian work other than the Bible. More than 1,400 commentaries on it are known to have been written. Lombard’s Sentences was the standard university-level textbook on theology from the early thirteenth century to the mid-sixteenth century throughout western Europe. Rosemann (2004) pp. 3-4. On its influence, Rosemann (2007).

From the middle of the eleventh century to the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, clerics trained in cathedral schools rose in influence to become the agenda-setters and arbiters of elite reasoned belief. The University of Paris, which helped to institutionalize clerics’ broad societal importance, was founded about 1150 as a corporation associated with the cathedral school of Notre Dame in Paris. For intellectual history of Lombard’s Sentences within the socio-intellectual development of the clerical class, Monagle (2013).

[2] Peter Lombard, Libri Quatuor Sententiarum {Sentences}, Bk. 2, Distinction 18, Ch. 2, from Latin trans. Silano (2007) Bk. 2, p. 77. Silano’s translation is based on Ignatius Brady’s 1971 critical edition. The Latin text is from the Quaracchi edition of 1916, available online at Magister Sententiarum. While the Quaracchi edition has faults, they don’t seem relevant to the quotes above.

[3] Lombard, Libri Quatuor Sententiarum, Bk. 4, Distinction 28, Ch. 3.2 and 4.1, trans. Silano (2007) Bk. 4, p. 172. I have made some non-substantive changes in the translation to better align it with the Latin. On “lording it over,” cf. Matthew 20:25, Mark 10:42.

Scholars today find Lombard’s view surprising for the wrong reasons. For example, Finn (2011), p. 60, called Lombard’s view on conjugal partnership “a surprising conclusion, given the patriarchalism of his world and his sources.” Notional patriarchy is merely the integument of gynocentrism. Lombard’s view is surprising in its overt recognition of the possibility of women’s dominance and its decisive rejection of that dominance. The situation within local churches may have been particularly salient to Lombard’s concern about women dominating men.

[4] A particularly shameful example of claiming “toxic masculinity” is pathologizing men who are vastly disproportionately victims of lethal violence. The influential work of Augustine of Hippo taught that the sin of Eve and Adam is propagated through all subsequent humans through men’s semen. See Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence.

[5] Lombard, Libri Quatuor Sententiarum, Bk. 2, Distinction 22, Ch. 4.1., trans. Silano (2007) p. 100. I’ve made non-substantial changes to the translation to make it more easily readable. Rosemann comments:

From our contemporary perspective, Lombard’s description of Adam’s motives for sinning must appear slightly amusing

Rosemann (2007) p. 110. Lombard’s description might not appear amusing to those who judge our contemporary orthodoxy about demonic males to be absurd and hateful.

[6] Silano began the introduction to Lombard’s Sentences with a story honoring a woman’s adultery:

A story that was already old by the end of the Middle Ages had it that there had once been three brothers, born of an adulterous union. Their mother, on her deathbed, confessed her sin, and her confessor, noting its gravity, urged her to much sorrow and penance. The woman acknowledged that adultery is a great sin, but professed an inability to feel compunction, in view of the great good that had come of it, since each of her sons had become a luminary in the Church. The confessor agreed that her sons had done much useful work for the Church, but this had been God’s gift; her contribution had been the commission of adultery, and for this she ought to sorrow, or at least she ought to sorrow at her inability to feel sorrow. The three brothers born of this unrepented sin were Peter Comestor, Gratian, and Peter Lombard.

Silano (2007) Bk. 1, p. vii. Silano characterized the story as “charming” and asserted “it makes important points.” Silano interpreted the story allegorically. Yet the story also indicates that, throughout history, authorities have treated women adulterers more leniently than men adulterers. More generally, courtly love ideology and anti-men gender bias in judging culpability supports deeply unjust anti-men bias in criminal justice and incarceration.

[7] Literature and philosophy throughout history have generally failed to recognize men’s distinctively masculine being and have tended to consider humans generically. That failure is starkly apparent in Johnson’s Dictionary (1755) and continues in current scholarship. Monagle (2015) provides a gynocentric perspective on Peter Lombard’s failure to appreciate men’s distinctively masculine being.

[image] Peter Lombard within illuminated initial from one of the earliest manuscripts of Lombard’s Sentences. Lombard is writing Omnes sitientes venite ad me {all you who thirst, come to me}. A scribe named Michael of Ireland wrote this manuscript in 1158. Michael plausibly worked for the abbey of St. Victor in Paris. He thus would have seen Peter Lombard in person. Rosemann (2004) pp. 41-2. Illumination from Troyes. Bibliothèque Municipale MS 900, fol. 1r. Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Finn, Thomas M. 2011. “Sex and Marriage in the Sentences of Peter Lombard.” Theological Studies. 72 (1): 41-69.

Monagle, Clare. 2013. Orthodoxy and controversy in twelfth-century religious discourse: Peter Lombard’s Sentences and the development of theology. Turnhout: Brepols.

Monagle, Clare. 2015. “Christ’s Masculinity: Homo and Vir in Peter Lombard’s Sentences.” Ch. 2 (pp. 32-47) in Broomhall, Susan, ed. 2015. Ordering emotions in Europe, 1100-1800. Leiden: Brill.

Rosemann, Philipp W. 2004. Peter Lombard. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rosemann, Philipp W. 2013. The story of a great medieval book: Peter Lombard’s Sentences. North York, Ontario, Canada: Univ. of Toronto Press.

Silano, Giulio, trans. 2007-2010. Peter Lombard. The Sentences {Libri Quatuor Sententiarum}. 4 vols. {Book 1: The mystery of the Trinity; Book 2: On creation; Book 3: On the Incarnation of the Word; Book 4: On the Doctrine of Signs}. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

Eleanor of Aquitaine and her ‘Courts of Love’

The following is a fascinating look at the medieval assizes established to adjudicate in love disputes. The ‘Court of Love’ is the historical forerunner to all later models of state interference in private affairs, as we see in today’s family courts and also at university honour courts set up to adjudicate sexual relations between students. The following account by professor Amy Kelly explains how this longstanding Western tradition first began.
___________________

BY Amy Kelly (1937)1

ANDREAS CAPELLANUS furnishes in his Tractatus2  the principal source of our notions, which are scanty enough, of the institution known as the ‘courts of love’ in the twelfth century.

In his work we come as near as possible to the original character of the courts before their ideas and practices became a stereotyped element in the chivalric convention, a part of a shaping influence in the social customs and the literary traditions of the Renaissance. The Tractatus (published 1190 AD) is based closely in theme and substance on Ovid’s Ars Amatoria (published 1 BC). In both works the conception of love is that of illicit passion; but there is a significant difference. Whereas in Ovid man is the master employing his arts to seduce women for his pleasure, in Andreas woman is the mistress, man her pupil in homage, her vassal in service.

What operated to change men’s attitude toward women from one of gross cynicism in Ovid to one of homage and deference in Andreas? What was the significance of the cult of women propounded in the Tractatus to the society in which it flourished? Furthermore there are internal evidences that Andreas, in spite of being ‘sapientissimus’ (wisest) was unable, in his redaction of Ovid, to make the free doctrines of the classical poet lie down comfortably in his clerical mind.

The Tractatus, in dealing with the theme of love, is so full of this conflict between pagan naturalism and Christian restraint, that one is tempted to imagine that Andreas did his redacting under some compelling influence. What was that influence? To recapture at this date the quality the court of love had for those who elaborated it, is doubtless impossible. There are, however, such puzzling incongruities between the bald erotic precepts of Ovid and the mystical transformation of these precepts in Andreas that curiosity reverts again and again to attempts to divine what, in the twelfth century, gave impetus to those alterations of doctrine before they passed into the social and literary conventions of the chivalric order.

Andreas reports, where lovers actually brought dilemmas before highborn ladies for judgment, but have been disposed to see in accounts of them mere literary redactions of the sophistical discussions of coteries of precieux, or attempts to reduce such discussions to juridical form. Some reflections of contemporary life – dramatized elements of feudal relationships, the hairspun scholasticism of the day, the formalism of ritual – are indeed discovered in the chivalric code as set forth by Andreas and as elaborated in the chivalric romances following the middle of the century.

But the actual enactment of the little drama of the court of love in the feudal castle has seemed too fantastic to be taken literally. Without for the moment questioning these interpretations, it is suggestive to approach the inquiry as to what was the early character and significance of the courts and their code by studying in other connections the personages alleged to have presided in them, the circumstances affecting these personages in the third quarter of the twelfth century, and the atmosphere in which they lived. The contemporary materials for such study are fragmentary, but such bits as can be pieced together lead to speculation as to whether there are not other important elements than those suggested above in the grand assizes of the ladies known as the courts of love.

What we think of the actual courts of love depends ultimately upon what we make of the background of the work of Andreas Capellanus, recently assigned to the period between 1174 and 1182, and in modern studies attributed to Andreas, a chaplain of Louis vii associated at some time with the court of Louis’s daughter, Marie, Countess of Champagne. The Tractatus, which purports to be a guide to one Walter, a young man seeking to equip himself for admission to elect society, discourses with the precision of dialectic on the science of love in all its branches, defines the principles of love, its effect upon lovers, its disciplines, its code, its etiquette. It records twenty-one cases in which lovers (as litigants might appear at a feudal assize) present their dilemmas for judgment by a court of ladies. In these courts preside as judges Eleanor of Aquitaine, her daughter Marie of Champagne, her niece Isabelle of Flanders, and Ermengarde, Countess of Narbonne.

The only specific clue in the Tractatus to the date of the assemblies is the dating of a letter by Marie de Champagne to two petitioners, as of May, 1174. This date, as an approximation for establishing the period in which the courts flourished, is supported by historical circumstances which will presently be related. Presumably, though Andreas does not so state, the place of assembly is Poitiers, where from about 1170-74 Eleanor of Aquitaine was maintaining her independent court in the interests of her son, the youthful Coeur de Lion, who was in 1169 recognized by the treaty of Montmirail as hereditary Count of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine.

That Marie and Eleanor presided together in the same court is intimated by the fact that they are associated as judges in the Tractatus, at least once in one and the same case. Nothing that we know of Marie’s life precludes the assumption that she was in Poitiers in the period in question. Though in the work of Andreas, Marie de Champagne appears more conspicuously than Eleanor as presiding genius of the courts of love, the queen herself is certainly the more dominant figure in Poitiers, the sustainer and patron of the society which gave substance to the chivalric ideal.

And as Andreas mentions the queen’s juries as including as many as sixty ladies upon occasion, it may be presumed that the revival of the ducal court brought to Poitiers the negotiable heirs and heiresses of the great counts’ fiefs of the south. The heirs of Poitou and Aquitaine who came to the queen’s high place for their vassals’ homage, their squires’ training, and their courtiers’ service were truculent youths, boisterous young men from the baronial strongholds of the South, without the Norman or Frankish sense of nationality, bred on feuds and violence, men with rich fiefs and proud lineage, but with little solidarity and no business but guerilla warfare and daredevil escapade. These wild young men were a deep anxiety not only to the heads of their houses, but to the kings of France and England and to the Pope in Rome. They were the stuff of which rebellion and schism are made. For two generations the church had done what it could with the problem of their unemployment, marching hordes out of Europe on crusade and rounding other hordes into the cloister.

The biographer of Guillaume le Marechal gives an idea of how this rabble of courtly routiers amused itself on the jousting fields of western Europe. To the tournaments, occurring in a brisk season about twice a month from Pentecost to the feast of St John, flocked the young bloods, sometimes three thousand strong, taking possession of the nearest town. Thither also flocked horse dealers from Lombardy and Spain, from Brittany and the Low Countries, as well as armorers, haberdashers for man and beast, usurers, mimes and story-tellers, acrobats, necromancers, and other gentlemen of the lists, the field, the road.

Entertainers of every stripe found liberal patronage; troubadours singing of love and war and the ‘bel saison’ in the south country, story tellers out of Brittany, goliards from the Paris streets. The gossip of palace and fief and school, of shrine and cloister, of synod and assize, flew in the street. There were feasts in upper chambers, and forges rang in the smithies all night long. Brawls with grisly incidents – a cracked skull, a gouged eye – occurred as the betting progressed and the dice flew. To cry up their champions in the field came ladies of fair name and others of no name at all. There was dancing below the pavilions on the greensward, with heralds and knights clapping the measures and calling out the changes.

We do not suspect either Queen Eleanor or the Countess Marie of having invented the courts of love. But it seems possible that Marie, who knew not only her Ovid, but the poetical traditions of her Provengal forebears as well, appropriated its little drama, so apt for her purpose of dramatizing the disciplines of the renascent court of Poitiers. She made this familiar framework the vehicle for her woman’s doctrine of civility, and in converting it, she transformed the gross and cynical pagan doctrines of Ovid to something more ideal, the woman’s canon, the chivalric code of manners. For manners, she plainly saw, are after all the fine residuum of philosophies, the very flower of ethics.

So Marie began her academic program in the queen’s palace not with philosophies, but with a theory of conduct developing the ultimate refinements of the mind and heart. The lesson, if formal, was not dry. With Ovid for a model, she drew up, and her chaplain Andreas recorded for her, then or subsequently, the constitution of a society to be impelled not by force nor by casual impulse, but by an inner disciplined sense of propriety. What progress could be made in dialectic by untutored squires who rode hacks into mess halls, and by hoydens who diverted eyes from psalters in the very midst of mass? And upon what could one ground a code of chivalry save on the classic and universal theme of love?

‘How passing wonderful is love,’ exclaims Andreas, ‘which makes men to be effulgent in virtue, and teaches everyone to abound in good manners.’ And finally, to support the rather threadbare dicta of Ovid, who was after all in that court the passion of the elder generation, Marie’s code professed to derive from the authentic practice of chivalry in the court of King Arthur in Caerleon on Usk, than which nothing could afford a more unexceptionable pattern for chivalry. It elucidated for aspiring knights the true inwardness of Gawain, the sustaining principles of Arthur himself.

There is something ghoulish in exposing Andreas’s book, which is also Marie’s, to the callous scrutiny of an age hostile to sentiment. A faint odor of cloistral mould and feudal decay clings to it. But the soil in which it grew was valiant. The ideal of l’amour courtois which grew up in Poitiers had, as Mr Loomis has suggested, more than a little to do with freeing woman from the millstone which the church in the first millenium hung about her neck as the author of man’s fall and the facile instrument of the devil in the world. The court of Poitiers gave its high sanction to ideals which spread so rapidly throughout Europe that ‘the doctrine of the inferiority of woman has never had the same standing since.’

The code of Andreas gives glimpses of a woman’s notions of a society different in essential respects from the prevailing feudal scheme, which was certainly man-made. In the Poitevin code, man is the property, the very thing of woman; whereas a precisely contrary state of things existed in the adjacent realms of the two kings from whom the reigning duchess of Aquitaine was estranged. Incidentally, there is something to explain the puzzling conflict in the Tractatus between the secular and the ecclesiastical views of love in the fact that the clerk whom Marie employed to organize her code was earning his living by flattering feminine majesty.

There is reason to think that Andreas, sensing the perversive nature of the document upon which he was engaged, made good Latin of it only under a certain pressure from his sovereign ladies; and the Countess’s other servant, Chretien de Troyes, quite openly revolted from the too liberal implications of her scheme. As critics we may make what we please of this upside-down philosophy of women. There it is in the first two books of Andreas. There have always been two schools of thought about it.

With this anatomy of the whole corpus of love in hand, Marie organized the rabble of soldiers, fighting-cocks, jousters, springers, riding masters, troubadours, Poitevin nobles and debutantes, young chatelaines, adolescent princes, and infant princesses in the great hall of Poitiers. Of this pandemonium the countess fashioned a seemly and elegant society, the fame of which spread to the world. Here was a woman’s assize to draw men from the excitements of the tilt and the hunt, from dice and games, to feminine society, an assize to outlaw boorishness and compel the tribute of adulation to female majesty. The book, together with the poetry of the troubadours, enables us to catch a glimpse of those famous assemblies in the queen’s new hall to which lovers brought their complaints for the judgment of the ladies.

The female portion of the academy, disciplined by the fashionable example of the countess and the queen to a noble grace of bearing, a flattering condescension, mount the dais, an areopagus something sixty strong. They gather round the queen, and among them shine, besides Marie, Isabelle Countess of Flanders, who is the queen’s niece; Ermengarde Countess of Narbonne, doubtless familiar with some such proceedings in the South; probably also Henry’s sister, the lovely Emma of Anjou, perhaps also, if she was actually another sister of the king, Marie de France – all except Ermengarde, who was more nearly the queen’s contemporary, women from twenty-five to thirty, the notable high priestesses of art and beauty in the day.

The chronicle of Geoffrey of Vigeois leads us to conclude that the standards of the court impressed themselves upon Poitou and the Limousin. ‘Time was,’ he says, ‘when even the Bishop of Limoges and the Viscount of Comborn were content to go in sheep and fox skins. But today [the queen’s day] the humblest would blush to be seen in such poor things. Now they have clothes fashioned of rich and precious stuffs, in colors to suit their humor. They snip out the cloth in rings and longish slashes to show the lining through, so that they look like the devils that we see in paintings. They slash their mantles, and their sleeves flow like those of hermits. Youths affect long hair and shoes with pointed toes.’ As for women, he adds, ‘You might think them adders, if you judged by the tails they drag after them.’ The price of fur and cloth had doubled within the period of the chronicler’s observation.

While the ladies, well-accoutred, sit above, the sterner portion of society, purged (according to the code) of the odors of the kennels and the road, and free for a time from spurs and falcons, range themselves about the stone benches that line the walls, stirring the fragrant rushes with neatly pointed shoe. There are doubtless preludes of music luring the last reluctant knight from the gaming table, tensons or pastourelles, the plucking of rotes, the ‘voicing of a fair song and sweet,’ perhaps even some of the more complicated musical harmonies so ill-received by the clerical critics of London; a Breton lai adding an episode to Arthurian romance, or a chapter in the tale of sad-man Tristan, bringing a gush of tears from the tender audience clustered about the queen and the countess of Champagne.

After the romance of the evening in the queen’s court, the jury comes to attention upon petition of a young knight in the hall. He bespeaks the judgment of the queen and her ladies upon a point of conduct, through an advocate of course, so that he may remain anonymous. A certain knight, so the advocate deposes, has sworn to his lady, as the hard condition of obtaining her love, that he will upon no provocation boast of her merits in company. But one day he overhears detractors heaping his mistress with calumnies. Forgetting his vow in the heat of his passion, he warms to eloquence in defence of his lady. This coming to her ear, she repudiates her champion. Does the lover, who admits he has broken his pledge to his mistress, deserve in this instance to be driven from her presence?

The Countess of Champagne, subduing suggestions from the floor and the buzz of conference upon the dais, renders the judgment of the areopagus. The lady in the case, anonymous of course, is at fault, declares the Countess Marie. She has laid upon her lover a vow too impossibly difficult. The lover has been remiss, no doubt, in neglecting his vow to his mistress, no matter what cruel hardship it involves; but he deserves leniency for the merit of his ardor and his constancy. The jury recommends that the stern lady reinstate the plaintiff. The court takes down the judgment. It constitutes a precedent. Does anyone guess the identity of the young pair whose estrangement is thus delicately knit up by the countess? As a bit of suspense it is delicious. As a theme for talk, how loosening to the tongue!

A disappointed petitioner brings forward a case, through an advocate of course, involving the question as to whether love survives marriage. The countess applying her mind to the code, which says that marriage is no proper obstacle to lovers (‘Causa coniugii ab amore non est excusatio recta’) and after gravely deliberating with her ladies, creates a sensation in her court by expressing doubt whether love in the ideal sense can exist between spouses. This is so arresting a proposition that the observations of the countess are referred to the queen for corroboration, and all bend upon the opinion of this deeply experienced judge.

The queen with dignity affirms that she cannot gainsay the Countess of Champagne, though she finds it admirable that a wife should find love and marriage consonant. Eleanor, queen of France and then of England, had learned at fifty-two that, as another mediaeval lady put it, ‘mortal love is but the licking of honey from thorns.’ Of course they rationalize a conduct that has outburst the rigid feudal scheme for women; but disillusion speaks also in these noble ladies, who, though they divine some unattainable ideal value in life, know that actually they remain feudal property, but part and parcel of their fiefs. It is plain that each and every one of the judgments in the queen’s court is an arrant feudal heresy. Taken together they undermine all the primary sanctions, and are subversive of the social order.

REFERENCES:

1. Amy Kelly, ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine and Her Courts of Love’ Source: Speculum, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Jan., 1937), pp. 3-19 Published by: Medieval Academy of America
2. Title Tractatus de Amore et de Amoris Remedio referred to in English as ‘The Art of Courtly Love’

Courtship

Courtship is part of our everyday speech. We follow the rules of courtship, we enter into courtship, we follow the courtships of the rich and famous, and sometimes we end a courtship. While it may sound like a quaint antique of European language, the word still appears in our daily media headlines proving that the modern imagination remains in its thrall.

So what exactly is this thing we call courtship? To answer that we are going to have to dig into its history, and the best place to start is with the etymology itself:

etymology-of-courtship-3

The etymology starts with a reference to a courtier, whom Dictionary.com defines as “a person who seeks favor by flattery, charm, etc.” Next we read that the paying of attentions is from a man to a woman “with the intention of marriage” – there is no explicit requirement for a woman to do something for a man. The scenario given here is clearly one-sided in terms of who must make the effort, and who will be the recipient of that effort. Courtship is, in a word, gynocentric.

But just in case we have narrowed the definition of courtship to an anachronistic conception of it, let’s take a look at modern dictionaries to see whether they too paint a uni-directional picture of courting – ie. of men catering to women:

The Free Dictionary by Farlex:
Noun 1. Courting: a man’s courting of a woman; seeking the affections of a woman (usually with the hope of marriage); “It was a brief but intense courtship.”

Vocabulary.com:
Noun 1. Courting: a man’s courting of a woman; seeking the affections of a woman (usually with the hope of marriage).

There we have two popular online dictionaries verifying the gendered expectation inherent to the term. Other dictionaries however have de-gendered the definition in line with the modern practice of denying gendered customs and behaviors, but this does little to change the phenomenal reality – practices which continue to be gendered despite the refusal to acknowledge them as such.

Studies of courtship have confirmed that men’s practice of demonstrating various kinds of attentions toward women amount to a gynocentric contract. Drs. Timothy Perper1 and Monica M. Moore2 have independently discovered, contrary to popular beliefs, that courtship is normally triggered and controlled by women and driven mainly by non-verbal behaviours to which men respond. That gynocentric pattern of power is supported by other theorists who specialize in the study of body language.3

For those unsure as to whether courtship remains a gendered expectation, the following advice by columnist James Michael Sama provides a modern example.

In many of my articles I refer to “courtship” or “courting women,” when discussing chivalry and romance… and why do I think we should work to keep it alive? Here are five reasons:

1. You’ll develop a stronger relationship.

It is traditionally so that the man in a new relationship will be the one who is courting a woman. As men, we are the pursuers, both naturally and societally. I have often heard men ask “what’s in it for me?” Well, first of all if you’re performing acts of kindness for the sake of a reward (see #3 in the definition above) then it is not true kindness.

Real kindness comes from the goodness of your heart without the want for reward but it should also be noted that courting a woman will bring two things into your life:

The type of woman with the maturity and dignity to only accept advances from a man who treats her with respect. The ability to therefore grow a stronger and longer lasting relationship with the woman in question..

2. You become better in all areas of life.

Courtship is (read: should be) a selfless act. It requires you to put in effort for another person’s enjoyment, learn about them and learn about yourself in the process. When committing one’s self to efforts such as these, one cannot help but to develop internally as well. We become more aware of the world around us, what people want and need in order to be happy, and how we can help give it to them.

3. You will gain her trust.

One of the biggest factors in relationships failing these days is lack of trust. Either lack of trust during the beginning stages, or even after commitment has been established.

If a man takes the time to court a woman, it requires him to build a foundation for the relationship. Relationships do not simply appear out of thin air. They take time, energy, and commitment to build, much like a house. But a relationship without this trust and friendship is like a house built on sand. It may look good from the outside, but it will have nothing to keep it standing when the weather gets rough.

If a woman has a clear view that you’re willing to build this foundation with her, it will limit her insecurities and help build her confidence in you.

4. You will intensify your intimacy.

Through the process of courtship, men and women tend to develop a stronger emotional connection than if they had simply jumped into a relationship or a “friends with benefits” scenario. What many people don’t realize is that a stronger emotional connection, especially for a woman, translates to a stronger physical connection.

5. You will find the right person for YOU.

The right type of person will appreciate small details, the kindness you exude to those around you, and the effort you put in specifically for them. Through the courtship process we learn if a woman (or man) is going to be appreciative of what we do for them and how they will respond.

If we jump into a relationship, as many do these days, we are left complaining about how they “changed” after a few months of being with them, and then breaking up. In reality, nobody changed at all – you simply learned who they truly are.

If we take the time to practice courtship, we will eliminate these surprises down the road and truly learn who we are building a relationship with at the proper time to do so : in the beginning.

Show someone your respect for yourself as well as for them, by keeping courtship alive.4

This example indicates that men are still expected to carry the lion’s share of courting labour for the new couple. Clear too is that this is not a mere animal reflex as some would suggest, which clouds the idiosyncratic culture customs which gave it form. We tend to confuse cultural concepts of courting with biological mating impulses of animals, when they are logically distinct motivations with the one having its center of gravity biological reflexes, and the other in rituals, customs and taboos of a given society.

The blue wren never learned about chivalry and courtly love in order to know how to build a nest, does not rely on cultural customs to know nest design. Men and women on the other hand learn much of their repertoire of courtship, going down on one knee, or expecting chivalric deference from men, from the cultural mores that grew up around them. And unlike the blue wren, a serious study of cultural history can snap us out of our unconsciousness and open us up to potential new models for building relationships – like ones based on mutual effort and respect as opposed to the one-way street of courtship.

References:

[1] Perper, T. (1985) Sex Signals: The Biology Of Love, Philadelphia, ISI Press.
[2] Moore, N (1985). “Nonverbal courtship patterns in women: contact and consequences”. Ethology and Sociobiology. 6: 237–247.
[3] Pease, A. and Pease, B. (2004) The Definitive Book Of Body Language, London: Orion Books.
[4] 5 Brilliant Reasons Men Should Stop Playing Hard To Get If They Want The Woman Of Their Dreams

Further reading:

[Study] The allure of chivalry
[Study] Courtly Love Today: Romance and Socialization in Interpersonal Scripts